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Relationship Farming And Tough Times: Opportunity For Pruning

By Terry L. Brock

The dismal economy has given you and me, as small business owners and salespeople, a real gift. Yep! You might not initially think of it as a gift but this really is.

Before you pop the champagne, let’s look at what is going on and what we can do about it. Yes, times are tough now. Just look at the recent collapse of Indy-Mac, the massive problems with Fannie Mae and Freedie Mac, daily increases in the price of oil, problems in the housing sector, the auto sector and other areas of the economy. And if that weren’t enough—- Budweiser is going to be owned by a bunch of Belgians! Is nothing sacred???

Yet, in the middle of all this bad news, you and I have a special opportunity that we didn’t have in earlier, better times. You know the metaphor I use in building and maintaining relationships. I think of it much like farming. You have to study the soil, till the soil, plant the crops, nurture them and perform many other tasks to produce a good harvest.

There is another important part of farming. It is called pruning. You have to cut back on the things that aren’t producing.

This is the same for you and me in our businesses. We have to be relationship farmers. You have to prune activities, tasks and yes, people in your life where results are not in line with your goals. During thriving times it is easier to just say, Let’s grow the business more. We have plenty so it is easy to avoid the tough decisions.

Serious marketers and relationship farmers know there is a time to cut activities, tasks and yes, even relationships that don’t work. This is hard and requires serious thinking. You also don’t want to cut the muscle when cutting the fat. Use your best judgment here.

Jack Welch helped us when he talked about his annual 10% cut. He would annually cut the bottom 10% of people, activities and tasks that were not producing optimal results. This required serious thinking in terms of what is right for the business. It is a big part of Relationship Marketing and Relationship Farming.

In Relationship Farming, you have to decide which crops are not giving you the desired results you need to keep the business going. What activities are you engaged in which could be delegated or divested? What vendors do you have who could be eliminated or replaced?

It is also imperative to focus on those relationships that are not productive and based on value-for-value. In the real world we all know people who are takers, not givers. Successful relationship farmers practice lots of giving and value-providing before they expect to get anything. You have to prime the pump with water before you get any water from the pump. Life works like that.

Therefore this is a special time and it is a gift for you and me. You have the opportunity to step back, pause and think about what can — and should — be eliminated from your business and personal life. What activities are a drain to you and your productivity? What relationships are not producing, have never produced and probably never will produce any serious business benefits? Remember — cut the fat, not the muscle.

You’re probably familiar with the Pareto Principle — the 80/20 rule. 80% of what you do accounts for 20% of the benefits. Also 20% of the sales produce 80% of the profits. More recent studies have shown that it is probably closer to 90/10. The moral for you and me? Focus on value-producing, quality activities, tasks and people in life and let the others fall by the wayside. Yes, it is time for pruning. It is time to cut. It is time to step back, think and revise what you’re doing.

A question you should continually have on your mind — Is this is the best thing for me to do right now? Are you wasting your time on frivolous, tension-relieving activities rather than serious, bottom-line results? Now is the time to eliminate the unnecessary. Focus on value-generating activities. Think as a Relationship Farmer who invests in quality results with people and activities.

Shedding the frivolous and those people who don’t embrace value-for-value frees up time so you can cultivate quality relationships with those who do. You only have 24 hours each day. Invest your time, money and effort into those people and activities where you get quality returns on your investment of time, effort and money.

Tough times are a gift for us. That gift is the ability to prune as never before. Take some time as you read this and decide what you are NOT going to do. Get serious about the relationships in which you’ve been investing. Would they be better off being merely part of your newsletter vs. a luncheon and hours of your time? Don’t spend time on the phone with people just chatting away. Make sure there is value-for-value in the relationship.

Pruning time is part of Relationship Farming. After the pruning we can focus on what matters most and spend time on those activities, tasks and people who provide the best results. And that is worth a toast to celebrate. You can even use a good Belgian beer Budweiser!
Terry Brock is an international marketing coach and columnist who helps businesses market more effectively, leveraging technology. He shows busy professionals how to squeeze more out of their days using time-honored rules and practical technology tools. He can be reached at 407-363-0505, by e-mail at [email protected] or through his website at

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